I decided recently I wanted to get my 7-month old daughter a xylophone. A specific kind of xylophone: one that did not moo or meow or flash lights while playing The Entertainer. Not that I have anything against The Entertainer, I quite like it in fact. It’s just that she didn’t have any toys with which she could make music, just ones that play songs with the push of a button. To tell you the truth, when we were at a birthday party for another kid, I found the toy xylophone she had entertaining. I could tap out little tunes and it seemed like something that would be engaging for me and my daughter. In fact, after attempting Happy Birthday by starting on C, I explained to her that the song is unusual in that it starts on the dominant instead of the tonic so I couldn’t finish in that key and had to transpose. What 7-month old wouldn’t find that fascinating? Oh, no one found that fascinating? Fine, moving on…
There were a few qualifying xylophones at the toy store, and I settled on the one with plastic red wheels when the baby wouldn’t let go of the mallet. After just a couple of play sessions, I’m pleased to report that she seems to grasp that if she puts the mallet on the keys, there will be a sound.
As I was playing some tunes for her (the favorite of which seemed to be “Teddy Bear’s Picnic”), I started thinking about my days playing the glockenspiel in elementary school. I think it was 4th grade when we got to go from just singing to actually playing instruments. I always gravitated to the shiny, high-pitched glockenspiel but there were also alto bars, tenor bars and bass or “big” bars. It seemed to me that all the cool kids got to play the bass bars, so I tried for two-years to get assigned to them for just one concert. Finally, towards the end of fifth grade, my wish came true. I didn’t like the low, mellow sound that got lost in the shuffle, and I switched off playing the bars to dance the hand-jive with a friend of mine. After that, I went back to the glockenspiel.
This is significant to me because the next year I switched from the shiny, high-pitched glockenspiel to the shiny, high-pitched flute. I’ve always gravitated towards higher sounds, as well as melodies over bass licks or inner harmonies. So much so that by the time I was in music-theory in college, I could not pick out the bass note in a chord played on the piano. (Yes, that was a problem.)
My hope is that my child be musical. Though I am definitely musical, I cannot sing to save my life and just scraped through that ear-training class, thanks in part to my funky and impeccable sense of rhythm. Though I’m sure I can teach the funk, I’d like my daughter to have a more innate sense of pitch than I. Will a mostly, sorta, good-enough-not-to-drive-Mom-crazy, in-tune xylophone be a good start? I have no idea. But she really likes that mallet.